It takes up to seven years to grow a tulip from a seed to a blooming plant. Every year Utah’s legislative session begins in the dark days of winter and adjourns just as early tulips begin to bloom across the Wasatch Front. This year, Utah’s LGBT community enjoyed an especially glorious tulip blossom in the session’s final hours as the Legislature extended protection from workplace and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A seed was planted seven years ago in 2008 when nondiscrimination legislation was introduced, and this year Utah can finally enjoy this flower.
While nondiscrimination’s passage is an achievement worth celebrating, three Republican legislators from Utah County made comments that highlight opportunities for Utah’s LGBT community in future work for equality. None of the Mormon men are allies to the movement, but they raise issues worth addressing.
First, Senator Alvin Jackson from Highland confessed it “disturbs me to the core” when the LGBT community is any way linked to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. As the only black member of Utah’s senate, Senator Jackson has a unique perspective on the struggle for civil rights. His comments made clear he has no idea of the role that Bayard Rustin and other LGBT advocates of color played in the important legislative progress made in the 1960s, but the comments also highlight that those who claim to speak for Utah’s LGBT community are overwhelmingly white. Queer people of color are a vibrant part of our community. As Utah becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, our LGBT community follows suit. These men and women have important voices and we must listen to them and let them share their stories. There are some similarities between discrimination based on race and other forms of discrimination, but there are a lot of differences too. Senator Jackson’s comment highlight that LGBT advocacy needs to be more diverse.
Second, Senator Mark Madsen of Saratoga Springs stood on the Senate floor and bravely acknowledged the 800-pound Mormon gorilla in the room when he asked “Should I do as my church says or should I do as my church does? That’s tough for me.” SB 296 exempts the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and several of its subsidiaries, yet the church’s vocal support was instrumental in streamlining the passage of a bill that had never received a floor debate before this year. SB 296 is more proof that what “the Church” says goes in the Utah state legislature. Utah is 57 percent Mormon. The Utah Legislature is 91 percent Mormon. Anyone who finds that disconcerting needs to get involved in electoral politics.
Third, before voting against SB 296 Representative Brian Greene of Pleasant Grove acknowledged that “Even with this bill, we’re not going achieve a utopia.” No one piece of legislation will grant the LGBT community full equality. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, the price of equality is eternal diligence. Societies and civilizations are very good at grouping and then giving legal preference to some groups over others. LGBT people are profoundly affected by issues including education, substance abuse, the income gap, sexism, environmentalism, and healthcare. SB296 is a beautiful tulip, but it’s no panacea.
I appreciate the perspectives of these three legislators. They may not understand LGBT Utahns, but they offer guidance as to how the movement toward equality can grow from this single tulip of a bill into a beautiful garden that all Utahns can enjoy.
William J. Carlson
If justice holds each of us accountable for harming others, then a just society will be responsible for those it chews up.